20 December 2012

Zimbabwe: All's Not Well in Telecoms


Over the past few years the telecommunications sector has been afflicted by frequent, bruising labour disputes with feuding parties taking each other to the courts of law. But despite numerous dialogue and reconciliatory meetings little has changed, if anything the situation worsened, the workers' union says. Herald Business Senior Reporter Golden Sibanda spoke to the Communications and Allied Services Workers' Union of Zimbabwe secretary- general Mr Christopher Chizura on some of these issues.

To start with, how many workers do you, as the Communications and Allied Services Workers' Union of Zimbabwe, represent?

At the moment we have about 1 700 members. But we are trying to get members from other companies such as Econet Wireless and Telecel. We have been getting people joining voluntarily from Telecel, but management does not give us access to freely address the workers. We are getting members from Telecel, but the environment is not that conducive.

As for Econet Wireless, only two workers have voluntarily come to join the union, (Econet) management does not even want to hear about it, maybe because they have not joined the National Employment Council.

We have taken the matter to the courts of law. The matter is still before the courts. Every company that is licensed by the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe should join the telecommunications NEC.

You have for a long time been fighting for Poverty Datum Line-linked salaries. How far have you gone in that regard?

PDL is an uphill task. Maybe it is because the Government itself has not awarded its workers such increases and these companies follow that, probably they say "why should we be offering PDL-linked salaries" when the Government is not doing it.

When we go to the labour courts we do not get any joy for the workers. I do not think there are any local companies offering PDL- linked salaries. I don't quite understand why these companies are resisting, 2012 has really been bad year for the workers.

There were no salary increases and any arbitration awards were contested and the appeals take many years.

But in your opinion do you think that these companies can afford to pay the PDL linked salaries?

The PDL is not much, when the companies say they do not afford it, we do not believe them. The Minister of Parastatals and State Enterprises recently said TelOne and NetOne had started making marginal profits, but this profit means nothing to workers because the workers are getting peanuts.

CASWUZ has been fighting TelOne over its plans to exit the telecommunications sector's National Employment Council, what is the position now?

The case was heard before the Labour Court in March this year and judgment was reserved. This is despite the requirement by the Supreme Court that a judgment should be out within three months.

Econet is also resisting joining the NEC and the case is before the courts, but other international firms like DHL, Fedex and Skynet have joined because they know that issues of labour should be abided by.

We have gone and talked about it in Parliament. The NEC is a statutory creation, so if that is a lawful requirement they should join the NEC why is the Government letting them to do whatever they want to.

What would the impact of TelOne exiting the NEC, to the workers' welfare?

It means everyone (at TelOne) will be doing as they please. The union will not be able to represent workers in collective bargaining (and disputes).

Some challenges you have faced in the sector were presumably a result of the absence of boards of directors at some of the companies in your sector. Has this been addressed?

TelOne (after many years) now has a board and chairperson. When the board chairman came in we congratulated him and sought a meeting with him. We were given dates, but when the dates arrived they said he had no time. We thought if these companies had boards we would be able to relay workers' problems, the board is not sitting and talking to us.

How can the company only hear one side of the story, that of management alone and not hear the workers' side because they (TelOne) have refused to talk to us? You cannot say a company has a board of directors when you write to them and they do not respond.

Zimpost has no board of directors. NetOne, we are not sure because when we write to them they do not respond.

The board of directors should be there to hear both sides of the story for the employers and the employees.

There are issues around pensions in the telecommunications sector and reports suggest that some workers are not getting their pensions, can you explain?

We have written to the Communications and Allied Service Pension Fund about it, but we did not get a response. We wanted to know how they were calculating the pension, especially for people affected by the 2004 dismissals.

People just get US$300-US$400 pensions without any explanation of how that is calculated. We wrote to the Insurance and Pension Commission board chairperson, but did not get a response. We wrote again, but still we did not get any response. We are not sure whether our pensions are being done properly.

In the new year we will instruct our lawyers to take legal action. We only have the legal action as an option because they did not respond to our correspondence. Our members are not sure how they are calculating the pensions, but there are rules about pensions for people over 60 and calculation of interest.

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